Faith

You Have One Job

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I know it’s coming. I’ve read it before. But maybe the story will be different this time. But alas, it’s not. It never is.

Genesis 3 always follows Genesis 1 and 2. It’s like watching a train wreck over and over again, and I’m a passive observer with the unfortunate privilege of being an eye-witness to chaos and destruction. Powerless to stop it but forced to watch.

If I had written Genesis 3, things would have gone differently. Adam would’ve done his job, protected his bride, resisted temptation, vanquished the serpent, and left a heroic legacy for the rest of mankind.

But I don’t get to rewrite the story because the story itself tells us its Author is perfect. He doesn’t make mistakes.

Sometimes, I need the story to correct me. That’s what Psalm 127 does. It doesn’t let me long for what could’ve been, but rather live wholly—and trustingly—in what is.

A Garden Psalm

One of fifteen Psalms of Ascent—a set of songs regularly sung by Hebrew pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem—Psalm 127 reminds pilgrims that in every aspect of our created reality, God can and should be trusted.

And that really is the point of the garden story in Genesis—that God can and should be trusted.

But we have a hard time trusting him, don’t we?

When viewed alongside Genesis, we discover that the 127th psalm is a garden psalm. It reminds us of the origin story that set the assigned rhythms and responsibilities of human life. It’s a psalm about how life was intended to be lived, how we’ve fallen away, and how we can once again be brought back into God’s intended design.

Psalm 127 is a hope-filled corrective in a fallen world, a glimpse into how a garden life is once again possible because of the reality of redemption. Ours is a fallen world, yes, but living as we were intended is also possible, even in the midst of brokenness.

To help him (and us) live as intended, God gave Adam a three-fold job description in the garden, which is echoed in Psalm 127: work, protection, and multiplication.

The Dignity of Labor

God made it clear that humanity’s role on the earth included the responsibility of work:

“Fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion” (Gen. 1:28, emphasis added).

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it . . .” (Gen. 2:15, emphasis added).

Work, labor, was not originally a toilsome thing, but as a result of the Fall, God cursed mankind’s labor with toil, making it a vanity, a chasing after the wind. It’s no wonder, then, that the psalmist says,

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain . . . It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” —Psalm 127:1a, 2

Rather than working from our identity, we fallen humans tend to try to work for our identity.

This misplaced identity comes when the creator God—the original and primary Worker—is disconnected from our work. We work in our own strength and for our own purposes, so our work ends up defining who we are. Those who “rise up early and go late to rest” are enslaved to their own need for validation through accomplishment or success.

Humans were made to work for God. Divorced from this reality, we allow our work to define us rather than allowing God to define both us and our work. Work becomes toil when it’s disconnected from the God who “works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

Since God should be our defining reality, work—a good thing in itself—has a natural limit. Labor should not be all-encompassing. It shouldn’t consume us. Work’s natural end is God-protected rest: “for he gives to his beloved sleep.” This is the natural rhythm that God himself observed on the seventh day when he rested from all his labors (Gen. 2:1-3). Without this rhythm, we cannot live as God intended.

The Role of Vigilance

Adam’s second responsibility in the garden was protection: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15, emphasis added). The Hebrew word translated as “keep” carries the idea of protection: Adam was to guard the garden. But from what? Hadn’t all of God’s creation been good?

From this language, it’s clear there’s an imminent threat, an Enemy at the gate. Adam’s job was to protect the garden from this insidious intruder.

Sadly, Adam wasn’t up for the task. He let his guard down and the intruder entered the garden, successfully tempted Eve, and Adam found himself falling into disobedience alongside her.

Psalm 127 echoes this protective responsibility with the image of the watchman:

“Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” —Psalm 127:1b

We Americans are a people obsessed with security and safety. Unlike the ancient Israelites who lived with constant threats from nature, disease, and foreign armies, our days are passed in relative ease.

We’re shocked when our sense of peace is invaded by natural disasters, terrorism, or senseless acts of violence. We observe tragedy on the news, then quickly coddle ourselves back into a sense of safety. We pad our bank accounts, increase our insurance coverage, and buy safer cars. But without God’s protection, it’s all for naught.

Implied in the verse above is that the watchman is trusting in his own vigilance to bring safety. He is not trusting in God’s protection. This was Adam’s weakness as well: forgetting to trust in his guardian, the God who had created him. Adam failed to turn to God for help in his protective role, trusting instead in his own vigilance and power.

What would have happened if Adam (or Eve) had turned to God and cried out for help in that moment? We’ll never know.

There is only One who can truly protect us. We have one Shepherd who knows the number of hairs on our head. In our moments of greatest fear and anxiety, we must look to him. When we do, we live into the lives we were made for.

The Task of Multiplication

The final task assigned to our first parents was multiplication: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth . . .’” (Gen. 1:28).

Psalm 127 echoes these blessings:

“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” —Psalm 127:3-5

Children naturally reflect the ones who bore them. This was God’s intention in calling humanity to multiply, that those made in his image were to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” with his reflected glory (see Num. 14:21; Hab. 2:14). It’s an undeserved reward for men and women to join God in this glorious task.

When we partner with God in the work of multiplication, we’re pictured as warriors, armed with the arrows of proliferation. The enemy confronts each of us at the gates with the lie uttered since the garden: “You can’t trust God. He doesn’t love you. You aren’t blessed. He can’t use you.”

And yet in our work of multiplication—whether it be bearing and raising children or making spiritual children through disciples (see Matt. 28:18-20)—God uses us despite ourselves.

And like all human tasks, unless the Lord does his work, we remain fruitless, unequipped for the battle at hand and defeated by the lie. But equipped with our God-given arrows—the fruit of grace in our lives—we meet the enemy at the gates, ready and triumphant, just as we were intended.

You Had One Job

Adam had one job: to trust God. His sin was thinking he could work, protect, and multiply without God. Psalm 127 reminds us of our own similar tendency and calls us instead to a life of trust.

This kind of life is possible because there is one who did the job Adam couldn’t: Jesus. He boarded the train wreck of this world, bore its destructive consequences, and is putting it all back together.

We can’t rewrite the story, but Jesus has written it for us and redeemed the ending.

So instead of looking back at the garden and lamenting the Fall, we must look forward to Christ. We can trust what he has accomplished, rest in his finished work, and join him in the work he has for us.

Let’s meet our enemy at the gate with a ready answer: Our trust is in Christ, the Lord.


Mike Phay serves as Lead Pastor at FBC Prineville (Oregon) and as a Staff Writer at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He has been married to Keri for over 21 years, and they have five amazing kids. You can follow him on Twitter (@mikephay) or check out his blog.

God Has You Surrounded

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Bad guys often have good vision. In Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings, Sauron’s all-seeing eye gazes throughout Mordor. In Harry Potter stories, “he who shall not be named” sees through horcruxes what other characters cannot see. Villains who have the ability to see far and wide make others uneasy. Just think if there was someone who could see all you do on a daily basis--talk about nervous!

When we see a lot, we are reminded of how small we are. We are struck by the fact our vision is limited. I grew up on a hill, and although the field leading to the top of the hill was no fun to climb, the view from the top was a treat. I could see adjacent hills for miles. It was hard to tell where one stopped and another started.

Standing there looking out, I was reminded of my smallness. However, sensing God's omnipresence, his ability to see everything and be present everywhere, didn't make me feel uneasy. It brought me joy.

A FIRM FOUNDATION

When Israel climbed those hills to meet with God, they too were struck by God’s vastness and nearness. The promise of God’s presence brought hope to the Jews when they wandered through the wilderness and were exiled to Babylon. The fact that the Lord was with the exilic Jews in Persia was a source of hope to draw on.

Psalm 125 compares faithful Israelites who trust the God who surrounds them to the stability of the hill. Those who trust God—whose presence is with them—become fixed, unmoving. They are the people of God built on a firm foundation. The Psalm says, like Mount Zion, those who trust the Lord are unshaken, like a hill (Ps. 125:1). And unless you live near a fault line, hills don’t move very often!

Psalm 125’s composer is contemplating a vast landscape of hills surrounding the holy city. Jerusalem is built where David conquered the Jebusites and, likely, where Abraham offered up his son, Isaac. Jerusalem is where Solomon built the atop a hill. And Psalm 125 dreams of a celebratory day—like other glorious moments in Israel’s history—when evil is vanquished and peace dwells in the land, an unmoving rock amidst an army of rolling hills. (Ps. 125:5).

Yet the psalmist's most important claim is that the stability of the nation depends on their stable and unchanging God. Our stability depends on trusting him, too. His vastness to uphold nations doesn’t overshadow his nearness to his people.

The psalmist envisions that the ones who trust in the Lord remain unshaken. Those who trust the Lord abide forever (Ps. 125:2). Like a healthy branch that must stay connected to the vine for nourishment, the Christian life demands we trust God as the only place for true stability (John 15:4-7).

When we are tossed by circumstance, we are invited to trust in the abiding love of God. When we continue trusting the Lord, despite ensuing chaos, we can experience real joy. Jesus promises that when we abide in him, his joy can be in us and that kind of joy is full! (John 15:11).

Enduring hardship takes us deeper and deeper into realizing the love of God in Christ. When trouble comes, stand your ground like a hill. Hills don’t lean on themselves. Hills rest upon the terrain around them. Just as hills encircle Mount Zion (Ps. 125:2), God is around us, holding us up, supporting us. When we could be shaken, we rest in his stability—not our own.

THE GOD WHO IS EVERYWHERE

The omnipresence of God, which the psalmist is well aware of, is compared to all the hills surrounding the Temple Mount, “the Lord surrounds his people, both now and forever” (Ps. 125:2). The people of God still know that the Lord is present everywhere, all the time. And that means he is here with us now.

What’s better is that our God promises he will not only be with us today but his presence will not shift tomorrow. To be present everywhere means you can’t take a day off and go somewhere else. If he can only be present everywhere, there’s nowhere for him to leave to. No space for vacation. This is good news for our hearts and our minds.

God surrounds you. He sees your frustration and, by the presence of his Holy Spirit in your life, brings comfort to it (John 14:16). He sees your anxiety and he mediates peace to you (John 14:27). God’s omnipresence is good news. He steps into our shattered existence. The people of God realize God is here. More than a notion though, the people of God get to rejoice in his good and faithful presence.

Israel longed to celebrate with the Messiah who would shatter his enemies. The wicked scepter they knew would be overtaken by a righteous one (Ps. 125:3). His righteous sword would shatter the rod of the enemy. The best fight scene in cinema has nothing on the clash the Bible paints of God wiping out his adversary.

God will win and restore. The exiles wanted the restoration of Jerusalem. You and I long for a day when what’s upside-down in our cultural moment no longer rages in our land. When shootings cease. When racism subsides. When abuse stops.

Because the promise of Scripture is that the power of death, hell, and the flesh were defeated at the cross, the wickedness and injustice we see in the land will be finally vanquished (1 Cor. 15:26).

God is not only fully aware of the brokenness we experience, he valiantly steps into the fray as the God-man Jesus Christ. Righteous among the unrighteousness. Freedom among bondage. Peace among chaos.

TRUST BRINGS STABILITY

The psalm operates as a prayer for the Israelites: “Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts!” (Ps. 125:5). But we know that we’re not good. We get frustrated when someone cuts us off on the highway. Our inboxes preach that we lack some diligence.

We know our very natures are tainted. Total depravity means we have a bent towards doing what’s wrong (Rom. 3:23). And God sees all of our sins! He sees our missteps. His omnipresence necessarily entails that he is always among us when we get short with each other. When we waste time that could be used for his glory, he’s there. While we stumble and fall, he’s present.

The promise of the end of this psalm, though, shows us that we can approach God in our brokenness and ask him to keep us stable. When we trust the Lord, he will steady us. The psalmist is clear that those who trust in the Lord receive stability.

We are finite. God is not. We are fickle. God is not. In all our messiness, are we trusting in ourselves or trusting in our God?

A PEACEFUL CELEBRATION

When I visited Jerusalem a few years ago, I saw a nighttime celebration.  Kids giggled and ran down the street while twenty-somethings proudly paraded blue flags around. They danced in the streets. I think the psalmist is envisioning a dance party like this—a celebration of peace.

In Scripture, God brought peace to Israel many times. Psalm 125 is hopefully looking towards the day when shalom will come to Israel (Ps. 125:5). God will lead evil away from his city and peace will be restored.  Israel looked forward to the restoration of stability.

Through the gospel, we know that God sovereignly saves us from our wickedness (Rom. 5:6). The way we used to walk led toward destruction (Matt. 7:13; Prov. 14:12). But because of God’s peaceful takeover of our lives, we walk on a new path (Matt. 7:14).

The good news is the Messiah has come and he has brought stability to chaos. For those that trust the Lord, the Holy Spirit guides us among our brokenness (John 16:13). The God who sees all and knows all continues to walk with us despite our mess.

His omnipresence doesn’t mean he is too busy elsewhere to be near you. His vastness shouldn’t make us uneasy. Rather, it’s a comfort. The God of the Bible—who sees everything—is simply asking us to trust him.


Zak Tharp (@zaktharp12) is an editor, writer, and lay pastor, pursuing an M. Div at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He grew up in rural East Texas and received an undergraduate degree in Communication Studies at Stephen F. Austin State University. He enjoys coffee, hammocks, theology, and seeing people savor Jesus! He has served in camp ministry and as an intern at Fredonia Hill Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, TX.